Longwood High School’s Mr. Anderson has left us. 

Rest easy, Charles Bassett Anderson.   Even nearly three decades later, his students in New York remember him fondly and are saddened by his loss.

Mr. Anderson passed away on January 16.  You can find his obituary at The Long Island Advance, where he was a contributor.  (He retired from Longwood High School in 1991, according to the Advance, just a year after I and my friends were fortunate to have him as a teacher. He then became a professor, first at Suffolk Community College and later at Hofstra University).

Mr. Anderson was a superlative educator, and was responsible for some of my best memories of high school.  He was a good, kind, temperate man who was easy to interact with, despite teaching a demanding course of study.  (His 1989-90 Advanced Placement English class was rigorous, and was designed to fully prepare public high school students for the far greater demands of college.)  Mr. Anderson taught me, among other things, that academia could be both challenging and (sometimes bizarrely) fun — and that we could demand a lot from ourselves and enjoy ourselves at the same time.

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: The “Platoon” soundtrack (1987).

This will probably strike many as a strange summer memory, but I listened endlessly to the “Platoon” soundtrack during the summer of 1987.  (The movie was released at the end of ’86; the tape arrived in stores later that winter.)  I bought it the following summer, just before my sophomore year at Longwood High School, and it served as the soundtrack for the “diving” expeditions at my friend Brian’s house.

Brian lived on an immense lake.  Our “diving” was really just two dorks snorkeling (dorkeling?), while one of them pretended to be various heroes from Peter Benchley novels.  (I’d inherited a few from my Dad.  Benchley wrote all sorts of sea-based horror-thrillers, people, not just “Jaws.”)

I swear that some of my happiest summer memories will always be snorkeling that lake.  It was an landscape as alien as I imagined the moon might have been — fantastic, airless, unknowable, and even apprehension-inducing.  Brian and his kid brother Brad had gravely intoned to me their accounts of the black eels they’d encountered underwater; the impression they made on me was enough to make me startled at the sight of any vague, longish shape that I spotted beneath the surface.  (We all still loved seeing fish, though.  I’ll never forget that curious sunfish who approached my face so closely that it looked like he was about to kiss my mask.)

Anyway, the “Platoon” soundtrack was known to play while we prepared for one of our forays, or when we were taking a break in Brian’s basement.  (Believe it or not, snorkeling can be slightly vigorous exercise if you do it long enough — especially if you’re wearing flippers.)  I’d brought it along on cassette, of course, as DVD’s weren’t a thing yet.  And sometimes we’d listen to it and other tapes when we were brainstorming our plans to appropriate some radio-controlled planes.

Brian and I absolutely fetishized RC planes for a while … neither one of us owned one, but we wanted to — very badly.  Fueling our greed for the pricey toys were a couple of catalogs Brian had ordered from a hobby company.  (The Internet wasn’t a thing yet.)  We hatched various plans to raise funds for their purchase — I think mowing lawns was the go-to option back in the day for kids who weren’t old enough to drive.  I occurs to me as I write this now that a smarter or more ambitious pair of high school boys would probably have focused on earning money for actual cars, rather than their radio-controlled equivalent — driving age was only a couple of years away.  Brian had a thing about RC boats, too — a predilection that I thought was entirely lame.  But, then again, I was the one without a lake in his backyard.

I’d bought the “Platoon” tape at Smithhaven Mall because of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings;” I was a nerdy enough kid to do that.  (That’s the instrumental score that most people think of as the “Platoon movie music.”)  But I quickly came to love the “Songs From The Era” selections on the rest of the tape — it was really my first sustained exposure to the music of the 1960’s.

The Doors’ “Hello, I Love you” was my instant favorite; Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” was another favorite.  (I have a habit of quoting its lyrics to this day.)  I still love every song on the album, really, with one exception.  I really liked Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” when I was in high school, but my affection for it has definitely faded.  Today it’s a slightly annoying earworm, and I might have to play some Doors right now to get rid of it.

 

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Throwback Thursday: one ugly 80’s kid!!!

This picture was taken at homecoming game, I think, at Longwood High School in Suffolk County, New York, in the very early 1980’s.  This would have been the site of the “old” high school, at the end of Smith Road on Longwood Road, and not the “new” school building to which we moved in the late 80’s.

The furry fella is our school mascot, the Longwood Lion; that off-putting lily-white waif you see is me.  (God does not equally bless all children with pleasing appearances.)  I think I still remember that gray sweatshirt, and the oversized black digital watch.  (In the age before home computers, those cheap little doodads were considered a bit fancy.)

It’s a good thing I wasn’t smiling here.  Roughly half my body weight at the time resulted from my oversized teeth and gums, and that was not a pretty thing to look at.  My school picture could have redefined the term “Gummi” in a categorically horrible fashion.  I looked like somebody had cross-bred a “‘Nilla Wafer” with Ridley Scott’s “Alien.”  Or maybe crossbred John Carpenter’s “Village of the Damned” with David Cronenberg’s “The Fly.”  I’m serious.

 

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Throwback Thursday: “I want my MTV!!!”

This past Monday marked the 35th Anniversary of MTV.  It aired its first music video, ironically The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” on August 1st, 1981.

That’s a cool answer for a trivia question, but it’s not actually a memory for a lot of people.  Not everybody had premium cable packages back then.  My family didn’t.   And if we’d had fancy cable channels like that, I’d have been far more thrilled to get Showtime or the legendary HBO.  (We called the latter “Home Box” back in the day.)

The first time I laid eyes on MTV was at a friend’s house, and it seemed weird to a fourth grader.  I thought it was an inscrutably dumb idea — why did we need to see the music being played?  That seemed like something appropriate only for fanatical music fans.  In my child’s mind, I pictured them as the weird, overly nostalgic, long-haired men who purchased those “Hits of the 60’s” cassettes that were so often advertised on non-primetime television.

I  only gave it a glance; my friend and I then went on to play in the woods, maybe to build a tree-fort.  The 80’s were a different time.

Adults, too, scoffed at “Music Television.”  I heard more than one opine, disapprovingly, that “music is meant to be heard, not watched.”

MTV also arrived with little initial fanfare, of course, because nobody knew how big it would be.  By the end of the 80’s, even describing it as a cornerstone of popular culture would be an understatement.  It was … I dunno … a cultural conduit.  It was part of life, if you were a teenager.

By the time I graduated from Longwood High School in the spring of 1990, I was watching it nightly, just like countless other kids.  This was arguably MTV’s Golden Age — it would be many years before its inexplicable, universally maligned transition away from music videos to brainless, bread-and circuses”reality shows” and other questionable programming.

The countdown show in the late 80’s was “Dial MTV,” Wikipedia reminds me.  (Why do I feel like I remember it being called something else?)  I didn’t pay much attention to “120 Minutes,” which focused on alternative music.  And that’s weird, because I would go nuts for alternative music when I was bitten by the Depeche Mode bug early in my freshman year of college.

MTV could be found on Channel 25 in my part of Long Island; its sister channel, VH-1, was on Channel 26.  I remember thinking of VH-1 as “MTV for old people.”  And, by “old people,” I did mean people in their 30’s.

For some reason, I had quite a preoccupation as a teenager with Vee-Jay Martha Quinn.  I definitely had Martha on my mind, back then.  I’m not sure what was up with that.  Looking back, I think she resembled a mild-mannered, nondescript librarian who dressed just slightly cool, maybe because she just got a job at the local high school.  Or maybe because she was sneaking up on 30.

 

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Throwback Thursday: T.S.S. in Middle Island, NY

This “Throwback Thursday” post is one to which only my longtime fellow Long Islanders might relate.  And it’s really more of a bittersweet news item …  I signed onto Facebook the night before last only to see this message from a great old friend from the neighborhood:

“They tore down the old T.S.S. today.”

Yes — that’s “T.S.S.,” as in Times Squares Stores, even though nobody ever called it the latter.  And “T.S.S.” is an appellation that only the 40-and-up-ish crowd would recognize, I think.  Everyone else thinks of it as “the old K-Mart.”  But in the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was a sprawling local family discount store.

I and other Longwood High School kids have a hell of a lot of memories from there.  I remember accompanying my parents there during their shopping expeditions when I was .. maybe the age from Kindergarten through the third grade?

“Warehouse”-type club stores weren’t really a thing back then.  T.S.S.’ immense space was truly impressive to a little boy; it seemed like a world unto itself.  We all remember the toy section — that was where I browsed wistfully through the very first Star Wars figures — I’m talking the original toys released in connection with the 1978 and 1980 films.  I still remember them arrayed along the racks in their original packaging — Lord only knows how much those racks of unopened original toys would be worth today.  I’m also pretty sure that’s where my parents picked up those Micronauts figures I got for Christmas one year.  Come to think of it … I’ll bet the majority of my Christmas presents were bought there.

I also vividly remember the bedding department, for some reason.  I think it’s because I really took a liking to some Charlie Brown bedsheets I saw displayed there.

But more than anything else, I remember the weird entranceway — they sold concession-style drinks and snacks on both sides, the better to appeal to children to beseech their parents.

There’s a neat little blog entry, complete with the store’s original TV commercials,  right here at LongIsland70skid.com:

http://www.longisland70skid.com/tss/

T.S.S. was such a vivid, memorable part of my early childhood that it was pretty damned depressing for me Tuesday to discover its eventual fate.  I’m not talking about the sprawling space being razed.  I’m talking about the goddam dystopian state of disrepair into which the entire commercial property fell.

After some long intervening years during which the space became a K-Mart, the building just went to hell after that doomed chain went as defunct as T.S.S.  Tuesday’s Newsday article, below, should give you the rundown.

And the rundown isn’t pretty.  Over the past decade, it seems that the “hulking eyesore” of a building was the site of squatters, drug users, and encroaching wild plantlife.  If you have fond childhood memories of the store, then do not perform a Google image search for the location, as I did.  It’ll show you a massive, vacant monolith of a building on a vast, overgrown, dangerous looking lot.  It looks frikkin’ postapocalyptic.  And it’ll make you sad.

And if that weren’t enough, a murder victim was found this past Saturday in the woods just next to the site:

“Middle Island vacant K-Mart demolished days after body found,” by Carl MacGowan, Newsday, 4/5/16

They say you can never go home again, huh?

Throwback Thursday: CD’s?!

CD’s?!  Really?!

I didn’t think that compact discs were such an outdated format that they’d be the subject of a nostalgic Facebook meme like the one you see below.

But I guess it makes sense.  I actually own a portable CD collection case exactly like the one pictured, but it’s been in storage for years.  Today’s digital music is absolutely more convenient.

I always thought of CD’s as a 90’s phenomenon, but I was surprised to learn that they’re definitely an 80’s technology.  The first CD released commercially, according to this Internet thingamijiggy, was Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” waaaaaay back in 1982.  (For a little perspective, that was the album that featured oldies like”Big Shot” and “My Life.”)  But that was released in tech-savvy Japan — the first CD released commercially in America was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” in 1984.

They didn’t sell so hot right away.  They were far more expensive than cassette tapes, which peaked in sales in the late 80’s, and a lot of people weren’t sure the medium would take off.

I myself first laid eyes on one at a party during my last year at Longwood High School, in the spring of 1990; it was a gift from one guy to the classmate whose birthday we were celebrating.  Then I remember seeing CD’s in stores, sold in a separate section from tapes.  The packaging was weird.  They came in slim, 12-inch “longboxes” like those you see in the second picture.  I always thought manufacturers did that to make the product visually seem larger, like LP’s — but apparently the stores just preferred that packaging since the boxes could fit in the same racks used to sell records.

It was only at the start my sophomore year at Mary Washington College when it seemed like a lot of my friends owned them.  My roommate had a 5-disc CD player in which you inserted the discs onto a turntable the size of a record player — the “random play” function would select from those five discs, and I remember thinking that was pretty damned elaborate technology.

The discs themselves had a slight mystique.  They were shiny.  The bottoms were … lasery and kind of iridescent.  They just looked … high-tech and a pretty fancy, compared to the beige or white plastic cassettes every kid remembered since early childhood.  (I myself can actually remember my parents having 8-track tapes when I was a tiny tot, but those weren’t something that belonged to me.)

CD’s really were the first computerized format for music.  Hell, we were still watching movies on VHS tapes back then.  (Except for that one weird time when a hardcore collector in my dorm was showing off a rare, LP-sized video “laserdisc” of “The Monkees.”)  And again, CD’s predecessors were ordinary tapes.

At first, college kids occasionally erred a little too far on the side of caution in caring for CD’s …  Yes, they would skip or break if they were scratched or if they accumulated dust.  That indeed sucked when it happened.  But a few kids treated them as though they were made of priceless, eggshell-thin medieval spun glass — as though they would be rendered useless even if a single hair fell across them.

And one student I knew got CD care entirely backwards … he kept advising everyone that it was the top of the disc — with the artwork, band name and songlist — that actually contained the readable music, and not the shiny bottom.  (Retrospect suggests he might have been high.)

I owned only a couple of discs at first — I remember having Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” Ravel’s “Bolero” and Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.”  I also was the owner of … God help me … “I’m Breathless,” Madonna’s tribute to the bizarre 1990 “Dick Tracy” feature film in which she starred.  (I was *19,* okay?!  I didn’t know what good music was yet!!)  I also routinely borrowed my mother’s “Glory” (1989) soundtrack; I remember loving that during the summer of 1992.  Hot damn if James Horner didn’t sound fantastic on compact disc, especially when I was stuck at home on a sweltering summer night in a new small town in Virginia.

I did like more mainstream music  … but I continued to listen to my U2, Depeche Mode and Def Leppard on tape.  My tapes still worked just fine, and CD’s were more expensive for a college kid.

Mp3’s eventually arrived, of course.  I was very, very late to the party, as I always am with cool things.  I stuck with my CD case; the idea of “downloading music” seemed oppressively techy to me.  (Would I have to know code?  Would I have to type stuff?)  My first mp3 player was a gift — it came with a personal (and punk-heavy) music selection already on it.  My subsequent iPod broke disappointingly early.  Do those damn things just stop working as some kind of variation of planned obsolescence?  Because their shelf-life sucks, and it makes it ironic that people worried so much 25 years ago about their CD’s being scratched.

There is a larger point that I am trying to make here … I feel like we really did lose something in the switch from disc to digital.  Look at that case in the meme below.  That’s … a music collection.  You could hold it.  You could organize it with your hands, and then hand it to the person next to you as sort of a document of your aesthetic personality.  If you’re at home and your CD’s were in their cases, you could examine the cover art.

Or, if you were dating someone new, in that getting-to-know-you stage, there was a subtle ritual in which you examined each other’s music collection.  It was a conversation starter, or maybe even a handy icebreaker when she first saw your place.

Digital music doesn’t do that for us.  I don’t think I know anyone who has ever handed over a palm-sized gadget to a new friend or sweetheart, and asked them to scroll through the song list to “see what I’m into.”  And … you just don’t get the same sense of “having” the music, or owning it.  The different feel of digital is further increased if you can purchase individual songs … the entire concept of “having an album” is just different.

But I’m just bitching here.  I probably sound like one of those overly nostalgic post-40 guys who used to lament the passing of LP’s.

Hey, you kids … GET OFF MY LAWN.

 

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